2 Skiers Dead, 3 Hospitalized After Colorado Avalanche

Posted at 10:56 AM, Feb 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-16 14:56:09-05
Independence Pass

Courtesy: Independence

LAKE COUNTY, CO. (Feb. 16th, 2014)

(CNN)[Breaking news update at 2:38 p.m. ET]

Two skiers missing after a weekend avalanche in the Colorado mountains were found dead Sunday, authorities said.

[Original story posted at 1:36 p.m. ET]

(CNN) — Searchers hoping to find two skiers missing after a weekend avalanche in the Colorado mountains face “very, very steep” terrain and high risks of another snowslide, authorities said Sunday.

A search and rescue team picked up signals from the emergency beacons the skiers wore, but it wasn’t clear whether they were still alive.

“It will take many hours. I hope daylight will help, because once it gets dark, the SAR team cannot work,” said Susan Matthews, a spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management.

The team set out Sunday morning in conditions that included forecast winds of 30 mph or more. The elevation in the area is about 11,000 feet, while the surrounding region includes several 14,000-foot peaks.

“I don’t have the degree angle, but it is very, very steep terrain,” Matthews said.

The two missing skiers were part of a group of seven who were caught in the rugged backcountry east of Aspen on Saturday. One of the three survivors was released from a hospital Sunday, while two others were transferred to other medical centers and two more were unharmed, Lake County authorities said.

Officials have not released the names of the skiers. The reported injuries included a broken leg, a broken ankle, a possible broken rib and a collapsed lung, county authorities said.

Saturday’s avalanche follows a string of deadly snowslides that killed six people last week — two each in Colorado, Utah and Oregon. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued warnings that cover much of the state’s ski country throughout the weekend. The center warns of “unusual conditions” in the Rocky Mountains — weak layers beneath the surface of the snowpack, rapid warming and strong winds — that can lead to “unusual and surprising avalanches.”

“We are seeing very dangerous avalanche conditions developing from basically the New Mexico border north to Wyoming,” the center said in an advisory issued Saturday. “And the problem list is about as complicated as it can get. We are seeing very large avalanches taking out very old trees, mine buildings that have been around for many decades, and avalanches burying roadways with 20 feet of debris.

“People have been getting caught and killed in avalanches recently. These are glaring, flashing and obvious clues that things are not all good across our backcountry. We are seeing a snowpack that is teetering on the brink of critical mass.”